We are thinking about the last week before the crucifixion of Christ. Jesus shocked the ordinary people by opposing and condemning the teachers of the law. He has a hard time with hypocrisy:
45While all the people were listening, Jesus said to his disciples, 46"Beware of the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and love to be greeted in the marketplaces and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets. 47They devour widows' houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. Such men will be punished most severely" (Luke 20:45-47).
The teachers of the law held themselves out to be the model of those most likely to enter the Kingdom of Heaven, but Jesus singled them out for a warning of dire consequences. Instead of being kind to the poor and lending to the Lord (Proverbs 19:17), these religious men were robbing those who were the most vulnerable of society, the widows (v. 47). Unfortunately, the translators put a chapter division into the middle of Luke’s words, separating the widow’s offering from the context of the Lord’s condemnation of the teachers of the law, but Mark puts the two passages together (Mark 12:38-44), because they should be read as one passage. We’ll continue with Luke’s thoughts:
1As he looked up, Jesus saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury. 2He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins. 3"I tell you the truth," he said, "this poor widow has put in more than all the others. 4All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on" (Luke 21:1-4).
What do you think was the woman’s reasoning for giving up all on which she had to live? There are two ways we can look at this passage. We will look at one today and the other tomorrow:
1) This passage of Scripture is found in the middle of Jesus' speaking judgment against a corrupt religious system. Immediately after talking about the poor widow, Jesus again prophesied judgment against the temple and the ongoing corruption. Perhaps this widow was one whose house had been "devoured" by the religious leaders (Luke 20:47). It gives us a view of the way people were driven by compulsion into giving to a religious system that was far from the heart of God. At the time of Christ, a widow was not provided for by social services. Having no husband meant she had no pension plan and no income or visible means of support, yet here we find her giving her only means on which to live.
Some would say that it is a beautiful picture of a giving heart, but another way that we can look at this story is that of a corrupt system manipulating those who, at a vulnerable time of their lives, were being taken advantage of instead of being cared for in their old age. It is true that God honors a giving heart and those who give to Him in faith, but that does not mean that He was pleased with the corrupt religious system. It grieves the heart of God to see people manipulated and forced by guilt to give what they could not afford. All of which to enrich a religious system not reflecting the Father's heart but, instead, victimizing the poor and the widows.
There are those in our time, as well as then, who will find ways to take advantage of people in their old age. Older people can be "easy prey," and they can be bilked out of their savings, by being manipulated into giving away all they have saved under the guise of it being God's will. God has a special love for the widows and orphans and will judge harshly those who oppress them (Malachi 3:5). Religion is an easy way for unscrupulous people to use the fear of God and guilt to convince people to give. You have probably seen this happen in the media and even in television ministries today.
It is troubling to see people use the Word of God in this way, i.e., to manipulate people for religious leaders’ profit. Some time ago, Christianity Today magazine shared the case reported to the police of a famous evangelist sending a solicitation letter to a person, telling him that, if he didn't give to his ministry, Satan would hit him with "bad things," and that he would "wish that he had never been born." On the other hand, if he responded with a monetary gift, he could expect creative miracles and healings and his finances would come alive again. Let us be reminded again of Jesus’ words to those who were devouring widow’s houses that “Such men will be punished most severely” (Luke 20:47). Keith Thomas
Taken from the series on the Book of Luke. Click on study 55: Signs of Christ’s Second Coming.